Atletico Madrid struggles against three-defender setups

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, right, and his teammate Juanfran react during a Group C Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017. Chelsea won 2-1.(AP Photo/Paul White)
Atletico coach Diego Simeone reacts during a Group C Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Atletico's players react after Chelsea's goal during a Group C Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Atletico coach Diego Simeone gives instructions to his players during a Group C Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul White)

MADRID — Atletico Madrid has a weak spot, and it knows it.

Manager Diego Simeone admitted after the home loss to Chelsea in the Champions League that Atletico struggles when facing teams using a three-defender setup.

It also labored when it faced Girona, the promoted Spanish league club which featured three central defenders in a 2-2 draw in the teams' league opener.

"I agree that their systems made things difficult for us," Simeone said on Wednesday after falling to Chelsea 2-1 at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. "Against Girona, we were able to make a correction in the second half, when we used (defender Jose) Gimenez to balance things."

Girona dominated Atletico and led 2-0 in what was its first division debut, but it eventually conceded two late equalizers.

Chelsea also was in control from the start, keeping Atletico from playing its traditional game of vertical attacks. Chelsea created constant threats to Simeone's usually stout defensive system.

The game-winning goal came in the last kick of the game, but it was a well-deserved victory for the English club.

"They were better technically and they were better tactically," Simeone said. "It was a fair victory, Chelsea outplayed us."

The scheme with three central defenders and two full backs prevented Atletico from efficiently penetrating the back line.

Simeone added Gimenez, Nicolas Gaitan and Fernando Torres to try to change the team's dynamic, but the changes created little effect.

"They have a way of playing that leaves you with very few spaces," Atletico defender Juanfran Torres said. "And when they attack, they are very effective."

Chelsea has been thriving since coach Antonio Conte implemented the defensive setup. He has varied his formations in attack, depending on his forwards, but has kept up a three-man defense.

He uses a 3-5-2 scheme or switches to a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-4-2-1, like Girona did in the game against Atletico.

The first loss at its new stadium has put Atletico in a difficult position in Group C of the Champions League.

Atletico has only one point after two matches, five less than Chelsea and three less than Roma, which defeated Qarabag 2-1 in Azerbaijan. Atletico opened with a 0-0 draw at Roma.

Atletico travels to Azerbaijan to play Qarabag next on Oct. 18, while Chelsea hosts Roma.

"This loss doesn't make us a bad team," Torres said. "There is still a lot of Champions League to be played. These setbacks will make our team stronger."

"We only think about winning."

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More AP Champions League coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/ChampionsLeague

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More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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